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Circumstances, context and non-comprehending compliance in the communication of the caution
This paper situates the communication of suspects’ right to silence in police investigative interviews within the law’s approach to language and understanding. Specifically, it contrasts the law’s denotational approach to meaning with the sociolinguistic axiom that the meaning of a text depends on its context.
The difference between these approaches will be illustrated with the example of yes to do you understand? questions following police delivery of the caution, and illustrated with the Australian case of WA v Gibson 2014 WASC 240.The discussion will draw on current work on the construction of consent in various legal contexts in understanding the significance of the law’s mis/interpretation as consent of this type of “non-comprehending compliance” (Eades and Ehrlich 2018, in progress).
The paper concludes with consideration of the role of (socio)linguistics in dialogue with legal professionals about issues impacting the communication of the right to silence and its interpretation of suspects’ understanding of it. Examining the range of issues of context involved in Gibson’s case, and the appeal judge’s decision about these issues, gives cause for optimism about this ongoing dialogue between linguistics and the law. A central issue is the need to bring together the law’s recognition of the need to take individual circumstances into account, with understandings from linguistics about the diversity of contextual dimensions involved in communicating in a second, or additional language.
How L2 speakers of English understand and misunderstand their Miranda rights
Scott Jarvis1, Aneta Pavlenko2, Elizabeth Hepford3
1University of Utah, United States of America; 2University of Oslo, Norway; 3Wesleyan College, United States of America
In the US, numerous versions of the Miranda Warning exist, and most are written in high-code legalese. Research shows that native English speakers have difficulty understanding the Warning (Rogers et al., 2010, 2011), and this is even more challenging for suspects with limited English proficiency (Bowen, 2017; Eades, 2010; Innes & Erlam, 2018; Pavlenko, 2008; Pavlenko et al., 2016). Importantly, the nature and degree of this problem are not well understood due to the lack of systematic empirical research.
The purpose of this study is to examine how well L1 (n = 41) and L2 (n = 71) speakers of English comprehend the Miranda Warning, whether their level of confidence corresponds with their actual comprehension, what the greatest sources of difficulty are, and what the participants think their individual rights are when they misunderstand them. All participants were students at American universities, with the L2 participants recruited from advanced intensive English courses. The L2 participants included 50 L1 Chinese and 21 L1 Arabic speakers. Comprehension was measured through paraphrasing, recall, and dictation tasks.
Results show that 93% of the L1 English participants surpassed a threshold level of comprehension, but only 3% of the L2 participants did so, and no one with a CEFR proficiency rating lower than C1 reached the threshold. The results also show that participants’ confidence was high even when their comprehension was low. The cause of misunderstanding was often the misinterpretation of familiar-sounding words and phrases (e.g., writefor right, wavefor waive, presidentfor precedent).